President Nixon’s Resignation and Foreign Policy

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Forty-two years ago today, President Richard M. Nixon resigned from office.

Resignation Letter of Richard NixonAugust 9, 1974 RG 59 00330_2007_001.tif
Resignation Letter of Richard Nixon August 9, 1974 NAID 302035

While generally thought of as an internal U.S. crisis, given the inter-relationship between domestic affairs and foreign policy, such a change in national leadership (and the crisis that led up to it) had serious foreign relations implications.  Handling the fallout from Watergate is a key example of American ambassadors overseas explaining events in the United States to their hosts rather than the other way around as is the usual case.

The Department of State notified American diplomatic and consular posts of President Nixon’s impending resignation in the following telegram that was sent at 10:07 P.M. Washington time, August 8, 1974.

Inform Consulates

President Nixon has just announced his resignation to take effect at 12 noon Washington time Friday, August 9. Various detailed instructions will follow within the next few hours. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at noon Friday Washington time.


Telegram to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts, 8/8/1974

On August 9, the Department sent the following telegram to all diplomatic and consular posts.  Originally sent at about 1:58 PM, the following text is taken from a repeat of the original message to the U.S. Interests Section in Baghdad three days later.

Telegram from the Department of State regarding Guidance on Transfer of Presidency, 8/9/1974

During the day, the Department sent the letters referred to in paragraph “F” above in the form of telegrams to American embassies.  Most of those telegrams are not present among the Department’s records presently in the National Archives.  Among those that are in the records, however, are President Ford’s letter to Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka and Secretary Kissinger’s letter to Japanese Foreign Minister Kimura.

The embassy reported the delivery of both messages at about 10:30 AM August 10 (Tokyo time). Shortly thereafter, the embassy had to report some complicating factors relating to the Japanese making the messages public:

…Before replay received from Department, Yamazaki again called DCM to inform him that, without checking with foreign office, Office of Chief Cabinet Secretary already had released text of presidential message to press. Yamazaki said that under circumstances, foreign office felt compelled to release text of Secretary’s message. Yamazaki, obviously embarrassed, apologized for premature release and expressed hope that no harm done…

Telegram to Secretary of State regarding Presidential and Secretarial Messages

Copies of all of the messages and responses as well as the transition plan for notifying foreign governments, meeting with foreign ambassadors in Washington, and briefing materials for the new President are in the “Presidential Transition File” among the records of the National Security Adviser held by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.  An introduction with links to images of the documents is here.

Source:  All telegrams included here come for the Electronic Telegrams file of the Department of State’s Central Foreign Policy File (NAID 654098), part of RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  Those records can be found online as part of the National Archives’ Access to Archival Databases under “Diplomatic Records.”

I appreciate the assistance of my colleagues Marty McGann and Stacy Davis for information about the holdings of the Ford Presidential Library.

2 thoughts on “President Nixon’s Resignation and Foreign Policy

  1. I remember hearing that this the only records series at the National Archives that contains only one item. Series: Letters of Resignation and Declination of Federal Office, 1789 – 1974

    1. Thanks Daria! That is actually a myth. The Letters of Resignation series contains about 5.5 cubic feet of paper of people resigning from many levels of federal office (of course, Nixon’s letter gets the most attention because he resigned from the highest office). The series also contains John C. Calhoun’s resignation from the Vice Presidency.

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